This review is pending a rewrite, 2021-10-25. My opinions of it have changed a lot since I first played it. It was initially more scathing.
Pastebin for the old review here: https://pastebin.com/pb7tcRFg
I played this game for nearly 5 hours straight and accomplished almost nothing. Got very frustrated with the early-game systems.
This was surprising to me- I normally take to minimal-instruction games like "The Witness" and "Understand" (as mentioned in another review) quite well- I've played both.
The next 5 hours, I focused on finding metal ores. They were very difficult to find, but I managed to get about ~15 "prills" (the basic unit of metal)
The game sped up massively after metallurgy. Forging metal tools not only speeds up the game, but unlocks most of the "interesting" content- Machinery, light logic, all of that.
I went from 15 prills after 10 hours over two sessions to having 40+ spare prills in between building machines to make my in-game life easier.
However, this review is still a tentative "Not Recommend" because it was near impossible to play when played as intended. The intended way of playing is without spoilers, discovering everything through experimentation, with the hint system being pushes in the right direction. This sounds good in theory, but the implementation is severely lacking. Even the (unofficial) game wiki is no help past the "wood tier" of technology. I found more help reading the game's source code, and found that it gave me hints without making the intended action immediately obvious.
This game is really good- but the good part is hidden under a lot of blind trial and error. It needs work, but the core (heh get it) is solid.
Hello! I didn't expect to get a response from the creator! I'll split suggestions up into posts. My first post regarding hint improvements got deleted for being too long. Had to cut detail out for brevity.
The Hint System
Frankly, hint system is terrible. It gives a nudge, but is ripe for misunderstanding and confusion. Simple examples: glass tanks don't hold water, cured adobe can't be picked up as bricks. Hints reward outside knowledge, but punishes players for applying it. Improving the hint system is difficult: it's an external pop-up UI and runs the risk of being "too good". Suggestions...
Hint Actions, not Outcomes - Base hints on what must be done, rather than end goal.
Will greatly reduce those punishingly annoying assumptions.
e.g. For "make rake", "Craft something with 4 adzes and a stick". Removes material guesswork- lets player claim the rake discovery.
e.g. Instead of "Split log to make planks", show a graphic of an adze striking a log.
The player must still recognise the adze, and that "striking" means "pumelling", but discovery of planks is their own.
Could be more or less abstract to adjust "push".
e.g. For "carve tools", Show a picture of an IRL adze being used as a carving tool on a rough wood plank.
Gives hints as to uses for the adze, while letting players discover that this is how wood-tier tools are made.
Hints via generated structures. Might upheave the "tone", but...
Encourages early exploration. I had no reason outside of curiosity.
Find ruins with "almost" correct recipes, primitive furnaces and machines, etc.
Let players "fix" and discover optimisations themselves.
Could replace hints UI entirely.
p.s. <SNIP: complaint about lack of bricks>
EDIT: there are bricks, but mettallurgy is a prerequisite. Still strangely late game- adobe bricks are cast, not chiselled...
The core gameplay loop of discovery is fun, when not bogged down by guesswork. Fire making is a great example. Finding out that rubbing bigger sticks is more likely to create fire is an "a-ha" moment. Learning how to sustain a momentary flame using tinder, then logs, then charcoal, is similarly a fun and rewarding experience. Another great example is star navigation. Looking up and seeing that some stars move, and some stay the same, is a great discovery.
More "shapeless" recipes - Have some recipes not care about arrangement, just correct materials in a general vicinity.
Give indications when something is "almost right".
Current good example: Ash splitting when attempting to mix without surrounding it. More of that!
Other good example: Effective pummelling emits a particle effect. This was a great choice!
e.g. Emit a particle effect when sand/dirt is on top of ash, indicating that "something" should be happening
remove "normal" pummelling actions when something is "almost right". e.g. Pummelling loose sand in this case, maybe, should emit an "attempt failed" noise rather than turning into sand.
Add a noise when the correct tool is being used, and another one when it's the correct tool, but wrong "tier".
Add a noise when the wrong tool is being used. Let the player learn to recognise it.
e.g. Mallet on a glass tank... Yes, it's obvious in retrospect, but finding out it destroys the tank while in the process of experimentation felt cruel.
Have "almost correct" recipes be indicated. e.g. Right materials, wrong arrangement, in a 3x3 area? Glows slightly.
Some kind of way of hinting "prerequisites".
e.g. adobe/render mix is useless without water transport.
Water transport needs sponges. I did not know sponges existed until I saw them in pictures...
In the absence of this knowledge, "Glass tank" sounds like a water transport option, but it isn't.
EDIT: I wrote these suggestions before unlocking metallurgy changed my mind about the game. The above posts largely still apply, but many of these are rendered irrelevant by things I've discovered after.
Better early-game building. While part of what makes Nodecore fun is realising the difficulty that comes in "trivial structures", being able to build a house that looks decent early on would be a great "easy win" that encourages sticking with Nodecore.
Carving nodes into simple shapes, early on, for decoration. It shouldn't be a stretch that wood and cobblestone can be formed in the shape of a slab/slope/stair/quartered, even by hand.
More customisation options in the vein of charcoal symbols.
Personally, I'd like a pixel art canvas. Colours depend on finding "dyes" like charcoal/crushed minerals.
Reasons to explore. I mostly stuck to my little spawn-peninsula, since I had no reason to explore outwards.
Simple vehicles. Some way to move while carrying more.
Rafts, wheelbarrows, hand carts, etc. Low tech, but plausible and useful.
Balanced so that I don't always use them. Could be as simple as disabling running when using them.
Alternative tech progression. Example: Sponges are the primary way to conveniently transport water.
This locks out concreting, glassmaking, etc, if you don't have a sponge colony... Which I didn't. Which is why I suggest...
Weather. Not just good ambience, but could provide be used to provide water to things that need it, and reasons to build roofs over things that don't.
Encourages the building of aqueducts, and let me tell you, I love a good aqueduct.
More flora. As far as I could see, it was just brush and minecraft-trees. More realistic trees (bigger, immensely slow to grow) would not only look good- but would encourage integrating into the world, as an alternative to the conquer-and-flourish playstyle.
While I have your ear- I'd like to apologise if my review came off as harsh. I had to focus on the criticisms due to the word limit, but I can't understate this- the first few discoveries were fun! I thoroughly enjoyed building campfires, watching the stars move, and finding out what I could do with my tools. Your game explores some great ideas, and I'm sorry if it sounded like I was dismissing them.
I also noticed that you've renamed "glass tank" to "glass case" on the dev branch, which honestly I appreciate a lot. I can tell you care about this game, and "Won't be playing anytime soon" came off more final than I'd like. I'm probably going to give nodecore another shot today, just because I have it on my mind. :P
There's a lot of good feedback in here, I'll have a lot to update in my notes. Continuing development is sporadic (it's a hobby project, I work on it when I have time) but it's still continuing.
The intended way of playing is without spoilers...
To clarify, the intended way of playing is to try to play without spoilers as far as you can, but players should feel okay with seeking them out once they've reached their limit. Every player will have different limits, what everyone finds difficult vs intuitive is different, and the game is not intended to purposefully exclude players who run into some arbitrary obstacle.
For the time being, I'm working on making the documentation more clear about help resources. Right now, the best guidance I can offer is to ask the community for help if you get stuck. Most of the guidance that's included in the game itself is based on what's actually frequently asked, and getting that kind of feedback is really the only way to know what players commonly have difficulty with.
...the (unofficial) game wiki is no help...
Some volunteers have helped fill in what's in the wiki so far, but it badly needs more help.
Frankly, hint system is terrible. It gives a nudge...
It has come to my attention that calling them "hints" is probably misleading. The purpose of the "hint" system was originally to "hint" to players about content that's available, so that players would not assume they'd reached the "end" of the game just because they missed things. Rather than assisting players in finding things, these were really meant to goad players into searching.
"Hints" are going to be renamed "Challenges" to better reflect this (it's already in the dev branch).
Hint Actions, not Outcomes
Might give this a try, but my translators will not be happy with me again 😅
These were actually already buried in my "ideas" list, but there are some technical obstacles, and I'm actually more inclined to redesign problem recipes rather than expand hinting.
There are currently some known-bad recipes in the game (especially the "3x3" ones like shelves/cases/crates, totes). I hope to fix those someday but finding good replacements is hard, e.g. they need to be more intuitive, they may require intermediate stage items (and then what do those items themselves do) and the risk of "accidental" recipe completion needs to be low.
there are bricks, but mettallurgy is a prerequisite...
You can steal them from dungeons until you reach the point where you can make them. Both materials and storage in NodeCore tend to be tighter than in other games, so once you get used to the economics, you find that a few dungeons can provide quite a good supply of bricks.
The game sped up massively after metallurgy...
I'm considering some alternative routes that can be added to allow earlier access to usable metallurgy, i.e. with a lower initial investment of material. Experienced players tend to be able to reach metal within an hour or two, with optimal mining strategies and careful use of geological hints, though there are still luck factors. Metal remains valuable through at least the mid-game, though, so I'm wary of making it too easy to find.
Latest release includes a number of improvements that are relevant to the feedback in this review:
Hints have been renamed to Challenges, to make it clearer that they're (at least for now) not there to assist but merely to motivate.
Package description has added warnings about the unforgivingness of the game.
Package description and in-game guide now make it clear that asking for help is okay. Getting through the game entirely on your own may be ideal but for a game of this scope and scale it's probably unrealistic.
There is now a "stone anvil" system that makes useful metalworking accessible earlier (requiring less ore), including Hint/Challenge coverage.
Shelf recipe reform is in progress. "Form" nodes exist (not covered yet by Hints/Challenges) that will be new recipe ingredients, but they already introduce some new gameplay features.